Nitro is an arcade-style racing game with a Gran Turismo-style car-upgrading metagame wrapped around it. Players compete in various races against computer-controlled opponents, Game Center friends or random online players and earn money and resources with which they can upgrade their vehicle or purchase new ones. As players progress through the single-player campaign, they earn access to more and more powerful vehicles with which to assert their dominance on the various racetracks available in the game.
The racing sequences unfold with some good quality, fluidly-animating 3D graphics. The visual fidelity isn’t up to recent releases such as Real Racing 3, but neither is it a bad-looking game — though it still requires an iPhone 4 as a minimum, so 3GS owners are out of luck. The game is controlled using a combination of touchscreen “pedals” for acceleration and braking — one on each side of the screen — and analog tilt controls for steering. The controls are responsive and work well. Steering hard in either direction causes a “drift” bar to appear on screen while the player’s vehicle skids sideways — filling this causes a speed boost when the car straightens up again, which is an essential tactic to use in tougher races. The player also has a nitro boost which can be used by tapping it on the screen at an opportune moment. For the most part, the races work well, but some walls seem a little too “solid,” bringing the player to a complete and immediate standstill after just clipping them rather than simply reducing their speed. If this happens, the races are often much too short to be able to catch up with one’s opponents.
During races, various glowing objects are scattered around the track. Some of these are materials such as plastic, steel and fiberglass which are required to upgrade the cars. Others are crates marked with a question mark — only two of this latter type of collectible item can be picked up per race, and do not reveal their contents until after the race has been completed. The “mystery” crates generally contain either soft currency or resources. The collectible items help players feel like they are always achieving something even if they aren’t winning races.
Between races, players may purchase new cars using soft currency or upgrade their vehicles using a combination of soft currency and collected resources. Upgrading different parts of the vehicle has different effects on various aspects of its performance, and there is a strong focus on upgrading cars as completely as possible — there are Game Center achievements on offer for upgrading various numbers of vehicles to 100%, and the game’s interface prominently displays how much the player has upgraded each of their cars. Upgrading takes a period of real time to perform — a delay which can, as ever, be bypassed through the expenditure of the game’s hard currency. The number of upgrades which can be performed simultaneously is also limited by the number of mechanics the player has on hand — initially, they only have one and thus may only queue one upgrade at once, but additional mechanics may be purchased for a relatively hefty hard currency fee. Hard currency may also be spent on custom paint jobs for the various vehicles, and on restoring the stock of “gas” required to participate in races. Gas also replenishes whenever the user levels up.
Social features for the game include connectivity with Z2’s cross-game social network which links to Facebook and allows users to earn in-game rewards with their achievements in Z2’s lineup of games. Game Center is also used for achievement tracking and to allow players to invite their friends to a head-to-head multiplayer race. The Facebook connectivity theoretically allows users to use their Facebook profile picture as their avatar in Nitro, but this refused to work correctly during testing — the avatar showed up fine in the Z2 network interface, but not in the game itself. The game also requires an Internet connection to play, which might frustrate a few players, particularly given recent controversy over EA’s always-online requirement for the standalone PC version of SimCity — the online requirement in Nitro allows progress to be saved online (and thus moved easily between devices) and for players to quickly and easily jump into multiplayer races, but there is really very little need for it to be online for the single-player component that makes up the majority of the game experience.
On the whole, Nitro is a good game. It combines the demonstrably addictive nature of mobile role-playing games that involve acquiring resources and other collectible items (usually cards, here cars) with a competent, entertaining 3D racer of the Asphalt mold. It’s presented well and plays well, too, assuming you have a reliable Internet connection available. As such, it’s well worth a look as a good example of how to put together a solid mobile social racing game that provides a satisfying experience for both non-paying and paying players.
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A fun mobile racer with some solid social and monetization features.